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Russian military says it's turning its attention to eastern Ukraine


For a month, Russia has been attacking cities throughout Ukraine - from southeastern ports to Kyiv and even parts of the west. Now the Russian Defense Ministry has announced it will focus its actions on eastern Ukraine - the part closest to Russia - where civil war has been going on for years. To talk through the latest, we're joined by NPR's Nathan Rott, who is in western Ukraine. Good morning, Nate.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: So this statement by Russia, how is that being heard on the ground there in Ukraine?

ROTT: With great skepticism, right? The idea that they're going to focus on the east does square with what Pentagon officials are saying that they're seeing in terms of Russian troop movements, right? But Russia made other claims in this statement, chiefly that they've been largely successful in the first month of this invasion in demilitarizing Ukraine, which is a little harder to reconcile with what we're seeing and hearing.

You know, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his daily address that Ukrainian forces are launching counteroffensives. That includes Kyiv, the country's capital, where Russia seems to have been stalled, in Mariupol on the coast, which is a city that has just been flattened by Russian bombs and missiles. And in Kherson, the first major city Russia seized, there's actually new fighting happening.

ELLIOTT: Nate, is there any way to assess how many losses each side has suffered?

ROTT: You know, it's really hard. Russia put its losses yesterday at just over a thousand soldiers, but Western intelligence services say it's much higher with, you know, estimates ranging between 7- and 15,000 soldiers. Ukrainian losses are harder to pin down. Russia's given estimates, but obviously, those are going to be hard to trust.

What is clear is that there is a huge amount of human suffering here. You know, you go to the train station here in Lviv, and there's just family after family after family who have had to flee their homes. Roughly 10 million people have been displaced. Half of the children in Ukraine - half - are believed to have been displaced. So it's just a staggering amount of people.

ELLIOTT: It's really hard to wrap your head around that level of displacement. What do we know about the places that people are leaving and where they're headed to?

ROTT: So they're heading all over. They're heading, you know, to western Ukraine, which has been a lot calmer. They're heading overseas. They're heading to other countries in Europe, and they're fleeing from the eastern part of the country, the north, the south. A lot of people have fled Kyiv. Some of our colleagues who just returned from there say the streets are eerily quiet if you, you know, ignore the sound of artillery. The southern coast has seen lots of intense fighting. In northeast Ukraine, the city of Kharkiv was pounded with more than 200 missiles in just a 24-hour period. And I was actually talking to a 20-year-old yesterday from Kharkiv - his name is Yurii Rassokha - about leaving his city. Let's take a listen to this.

YURII RASSOKHA: On the first day of war, I woke up...


RASSOKHA: ...Just from the sound of bombings (laughter). Yeah, a good illustration.

ROTT: So that's an air raid warning. You know, we were talking outside, and that blares whenever missiles have been launched somewhere over western Ukraine. And Rassokha, you can hear, was pretty nonplussed. But, you know, a few missiles did land in western Ukraine yesterday in Vinnytsia. Russians were targeting an air force center. And we still don't know if there was collateral damage, which has become very common with a lot of these strikes. And it's strikes like that that have people here in western Ukraine also on edge, and it's strikes like that that have people worried that it's not just going to be a war in eastern Ukraine like Russia is seeming to say.

ELLIOTT: Well, thank you for your reporting. That's NPR's Nathan Rott in Lviv, Ukraine.

ROTT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.

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